December 15th, 2008
For those of you who don’t know, I am from Canada. So is Cobie Smulders, who plays Robin Cherbotsky, who is also from Canada. This has made us the butt of many jokes in the span of How I Met Your Mother’s four seasons. The show has never really strived for accuracy, of course, but its skewering has been quite adept: I had recent HIMYM addict Angie Han send me a YouTube link the other night that she viewed as proof that the 80s hadn’t, in fact, come to Canada until 1993, which I won’t share here because it was actually quite damning for the state of popular music in the mid to late 90s in Canada.
If they had created an image of Canada in the past though, the final episode of HIMYM before its Christmas break proved that they are willing to go one step further. In an episode that would make Baudrillard proud (and by proud, I mean roll over in his grave while proud that he was right all along), Marshall invites a homesick Robin to “Little Minnesota” (aka the Walleye Saloon) a version of Marshall’s home state (which offers similar weather patterns to Canada) where everyone knows your name, everyone laments the Vikings’ loss in the 1999 NFC Championship, and where they believe that Canadians are afraid of the dark.
What followed was an episode that, despite the episode’s other storyline being a simulation of a mediocre sitcom, brought new life to the show’s version of Canada: sure, it’s not the truth, but it’s a well constructed enough exaggeration that I believe the show deserves credit for its-AHHH WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LIGHTS?!
[And yes, I’m aware I made the same joke on my twitter feed, where it was probably more clever and quippy, but not everyone follows that, so you have to put up with it here]
Let’s get the rough stuff out of the way first: I don’t understand why we met Ted’s sister, why we never got to see Barney’s side of the storyline, or why exactly Ted came to the conclusion he did at episode’s end. When Ted commented about wanting to meet his sister, I nearly screamed “Me too!” at the television – we got Ted’s baseball card description, and we got to see her detour to Spain for a Nine Inch Nails concert, but did we really get to actually meet “Hurricane Heather” in the episode? We entirely skipped over her job interview with Barney, and while I understand the need for us to not see her and Barney’s plot to fool Ted the weird time skip was unnecessary and kind of off-putting. It felt like a cheap narration-covered editing problem, whether it was because of a lack of footage or what, but it didn’t work.
And it made the entire ending and the storyline feel cheap: we were offered a hilarious glimpse of Barney’s interactions with her photograph (I don’t know which of his three naughty sex and Heather-related carols I enjoyed most), but then we never actually got to see Barney interacting with her. Instead, this was all about Ted, shown entirely from Ted’s perspective – this is never a good thing for the show, yet alone when it wastes a lot of Barney potential and denies us a chance to meet a new character. When he co-signed that lease at episode’s end, I was expecting a punchline: that she had lied to him and really had had sex with Barney, or his TV was missing, or something that made it seem like this storyline had been going somewhere all along.
It wasn’t: Lily’s inability to keep a secret was funny at first and grew increasingly predictable and contrived, and the entire storyline never had a pay-off. Unless she’s sticking around for the long haul, and Ted actually plans on listening to his own advice and getting to know his sister, this felt like the wrong introduction: if we won’t have the same luxury, there were funnier and more interesting ways to go about this storyline that would have felt far more natural and funny within the context of the episode.
Because the other side of the coin, and I say this as a Canadian, was darn funny, eh? I don’t mean to get all “I’m an English major” or anything, but it was all about Baudrillard’s theory of simulations: about trying to recreate something in such a way as it feels familiar, but is obviously not authentic. We do this in different ways, and “Walleye Saloon” and “The Hoser Hut” were great examples of this. But rather than for the purpose of commodification, these places were about community: a sort of alcoholic’s embassy, a place to find like-people with like-minds and, as it would have it, the same muscle memory response to the very thought of that missed kick in the 1999 NFC Championship.
It worked on a number of levels: first as a chance for Marshall and Robin to spend some time together (she battling with Barney for the title of the show’s most crass character, him being the most understanding but also insecure), and second as an investigation into the forever broadening question of what the HIMYM Canada looks like. It has really ballooned into its own creation, resembling real Canada only in spurts. I don’t know if the joke that Canadians are afraid of the dark is actually something people believe, or whether it’s a play on the YTV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” that was quite popular (and, to a younger version of this blogger, quite terrifying) in the 1990s, but it was another chapter in an ongoing saga of ragging on my home nation.
But the show is so committed to it, it’s why it works: Robin is not apologetic about her Canadian upbringing, and she is willing to own up to the harsh facts (and, even, joke about them along with the Minnesotans up to a certain point) in a way that makes it work. While I understand why Marshall would be upset at Robin’s willingness to lie, to take part in his own customs and actions as if they were her own, I thought that the idea of missing home was poignant enough to make the storyline also a nice note for her as a character. I would have been fine with the episode ending there, but unlike the other side they were entirely committed to offering the full level of commitment here.
What we got was “The Hoser Hut,” the wonderful and amazing simulation of not real Canada, but the show’s version. And it was perfect: the polite donut offerers, the fear of the dark, and the awful version of the Crash Test Dummies hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” Admittely, this wasn’t very much on its own, just a clever callback to the earlier jokes and comments about Canada that Robin made. But when Marshall went to the karoke machine, I wondered what song he was going to be singing: what song was so distinctly Canadian that the predominantly American audience would “get the joke,” that they would find it side-splittingly and coda-worthily funny.
And then Marshall started doing karaoke to “Let’s Go To the Mall.” It was genius: it was the final sign that this was truly the show’s own Canada, with its own history and its own qualities albeit with a healthy dose of reality mixed in. It was one of those moments that wasn’t just somewhat quintisentially HIMYM, but it was a moment only possible based on the show’s commitment to long term storylines. It capped off an intriguing and funny storyline that had numerous good moments and a hell of an ending.
So a good episode overall, I’d say – and seriously, who likes the dark anyways?
- No, Barney didn’t get to have much of his own storyline in this episode, but renting his own swivel chair for their grand entrance? Wonderful.
- I’m about five minutes away from the Bay of Fundy, so it getting a shoutout was kind of fun – Robin’s speech was quite similar to a speech in a beer commercial for Molson Canadian, but I’m more proud of Robin’s than I am of that drivel.
- When I eventually own a karaoke machine, I DEMAND that there be an option to perform a version of “Let’s Go to the Mall.” And that I am in a bar where every single person will know the lyrics.